The Grammys, Macklemore, and cultural appropriation

I just don’t know what to think about the Grammys, Macklemore, and cultural appropriation. Every time I try to get it all down, I end up changing my mind about something. Each article I read, tweet I consider, and song I enjoy, my heart is turned in a new direction.

I can remember the first time I heard “Same Love” at the gym. At first, just a bit of catchy background music, then the words dawned on me. I was like, “OMG! This makes my little heart so happy to hear!” and then I was all like, “This is the sweetest thing, how could anyone not understand and accept the beauty of love!” and then many months later I was like, “Wait, Macklemore isn’t the name of a badass queer female vocalist?”

It took me quite a while to realize that the main artist was the male rapper. It just didn’t seem that way to me. Full disclosure: I am not a student of pop culture. I didn’t even watch the Grammys. I don’t think I ever have.

It’s tricky business. There are lots of people who are mad. There are lots of people who’ve been mad about the way the Grammys treat rap and hip hop for a long time. Most notable, I’m learning a lot about the intersections of cultural appropriation and the appropriation of an experience that is not Macklemore’s. Madison Moore put it best:

“And it’s not just anger coming from hip hop fans. It’s anger for songs like “Same Love,” a track about gay rights which has made a lot of gay activists, queer performers, and gay people themselves really angry that a straight white male is using [his] all of his socio-cultural privileges to rap about stuff that’s not even relevant to him.”

She goes on to explain why cases like this come from a failed system and a failed culture, and can’t be distilled to anger at one (white, straight, male) artist. There’s good reason to be upset, but I could just as easily be mad at myself for liking that darn catchy tune so very much.

I struggle because when I start to think about all of the things that make pop music so popular, my first conclusion is that I probably need to do my homework before jamming out to anything. But then, no, that’s hardly a solution. I don’t have time, energy or even the desire to dissect every bit of media I consume. And I have much more time and privilege to do so than many people.

Besides, by the time my dorky ears hear a song, it’s already a smash that everybody knows about. Damage done. Book closed?

Nope, not going to get off that easy. You see, in order to change the culture and the system that allows for the cultural misappropriation of the experiences of marginalized people to become mainstream, we need to talk about that misappropriation. We need to have discussions, call for a change in systems, and let big time media producers know that this just won’t fly. One size fits all media just won’t fit anymore, and I’m ready for something new.


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